BAGHDAD — Over a decade ago, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American occupancy began and the United States attempted to start a large-scale restructuring of the country, a restructuring regarded by some as relative failure. While Iraq has recently implemented new leadership that advertises widespread religious integration, poverty still remains at the forefront of Iraq’s issues. Poverty in Iraq has existed for years but was exacerbated by the war as well as the United States’ insufficient initiative for the Iraqi people.
Much of the American occupation focused on government, and rightfully so, as it was faced with a dismembered regime. However, the humanitarian side of the effort was under-emphasized and Iraq was left with many of its previous infrastructure failings having been compounded.
Unemployment was rampant before the occupation at 28.1 percent in 2003, but when the de-Baathification order sent thousands of state employees home, the problem worsened. The rate did drop to 11.7 percent in 2007, but it is back up to 15 percent currently, with a rate of 30 percent for the youth attempting to enter the workforce.
Beyond the workforce, basic elements of day-to-day life are lacking in Iraq. Electricity was shoddy in the early 2000s and little has been done to improve that since. Only eight hours of electricity is provided to every Iraqi household per day, a problem that directly affects the water supply.
The unreliability and inconsistency of electricity makes it difficult to pump water into households, which is not the only issue preventing Iraqis from getting the water they need. An Iraqi resident, Umm Muhammad, explains, “Nobody drinks the city water because we know it’s not clean. Since the war, I’ve had to rely on bottled water.” In the long term, the water supply has a dismal future with the very real possibility that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers drying up by 2040.
In regards to health, Iraq has a maternal mortality rate of 84 deaths per 100,000. This high rate is due to a lack in training of health professionals as well as inadequate health facilities with emergency response. On the promising side, the proportion of children dying within their first year of life has dropped to 35 of every 1000 deaths, which speaks to improving early life care throughout Iraq.
All the while, the Iraqi economy seems to boast of significant improvements largely due to the expansive oil reserves that have proven to be incredibly lucrative. Digging a little deeper reveals that the profits are not benefitting everyone, contributing to the almost seven million Iraqis who are living in poverty.
Bassam Yousif, an economics professor at Indiana State University, explains, “Even though GDP is going up, the average Iraqi doesn’t see that because the ability to spend that money is constrained.” Essentially, the profits don’t trickle down, so the poverty gap increases with those at the top benefitting the most and those at the bottom struggling to get by.
In the midst of all of this chaos, with tensions high because of terrorism and governmental corruption coloring the daily lives of Iraqis, the question becomes, where do we go from here? The United States didn’t focus as much on the humanitarian aspects during the occupation. That is not to say that the developed world is incapable of stepping in now, but it will be a long road to recovery as the events with ISIS continue to complicate matters.
The electricity and water problems need to be addressed with improved infrastructure and health problems require the attention needed in many developing countries such as better training programs for health professionals and more sanitary medical facilities.
Despite the many disheartening statistics in regards to Iraq, the country has also made strides over the years. In relation to the Millenium Development Goals, Iraq did halve its poverty before 2015 and the standards of living as compared to before 2007 have improved. But that’s not enough.
After years of struggle and tragedy, Iraq needs more people fighting for its cause not only to improve the success and happiness of Iraq, but also to make the world a safer place. Non-state actors pose considerable threats in unstable and impoverished countries characterized by vulnerable institutions and a divided society. A less impoverished state works to stabilize the society, one that can fight against terrorist threats and positively contribute to the global community with happier people and a stronger community.
– Maggie Wagner